New Zealand has been named "one of the worst places in the developed world to be a child" in a new health report, with the country's children's commissioner specifically highlighting the disproportionate disease rates among the most vulnerable youth.
The State of Child Health report by research organization Cure Kids, published Wednesday, shows rates of dental disease, respiratory conditions, skin infections, and rheumatic fever are "too high relative to other resource-rich countries." The high-burden diseases predominantly impact those living in poverty or children of Māori or Pacific ethnicity.
New Zealand's Children's Commissioner, Judge Frances Eivers, said these conditions could have long-term consequences.
"Many of our mokopuna [young children] start accumulating health issues from their very first days, and by the time they are young adults, they are carrying a heavy burden of disease," Eivers said in a statement. "The burden is not equally spread. Almost one-third of our mokopuna bear the brunt of health conditions, and therefore experience significant disadvantage, often along with social and economic deprivation, which is clearly shown to be associated with poor health."
Among the health discrepancies were hospitalization rates for rheumatic fever, which affected children of Pacific ethnicities at a rate 140 times higher than New Zealand children of "European or Other" backgrounds. For Māori children, the rate discrepancy is 50 times as high.
Meanwhile, children in the most deprived areas were three times more likely to have tooth extractions than wealthy children.
Children's Commissioner Frances Eivers: "On many measures, New Zealand is currently one of the worst places in the developed world to be a child.”— Zeitgeist Politics (@ZeitgeistPOL) June 21, 2022
Yet child poverty was Jacinda’s big issue.https://t.co/2uA8gXkd6rpic.twitter.com/djmyzqk4MY
Leading economists and experts in the country say rising living costs due to record inflation are primarily to blame.
New Zealand's Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) explains that unprecedented levels of need mean families suffer severe deprivation, with parents forced to work multiple jobs and prioritize only the absolute necessities. Across the country, 1 in 10 children live in material hardship, and 1 in 7 are in income poverty.
"Child health is exquisitely sensitive to poverty," CPAG wrote in a recent report. "Investments in frontline health care services should be coupled with investments to reduce child poverty, which is a major driver of worse child health and developmental outcomes."
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has long promised to reverse rising child poverty rates.
Despite making progress since being elected in 2017, future reductions have stalled due to the pandemic. According to CPAG, while the latest 2022 New Zealand Federal Budget has made "some important changes," the budget overall "lacks bravery" and "represents a missed opportunity to reduce child poverty."
CPAG and Cure Kids are now calling for increased efforts to improve preventable risk factors and invest in national data.
"Every child in this country [should have] access to the same health outcomes regardless of location, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity," Cure Kids Chair Stuart Dalziel writes. "Upstream measures designed to end poverty, and address risk factors such as unsafe housing conditions and poor nutrition, can be expected to have positive effects on all … of these health issues."